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Democratic Backsliding in the Visegrad Four: Examining the Illiberal Turn

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The initial years of the post-communist era reflected a promising beginning of the consolidation of democracy in the Visegrad Four countries. Slovakia, the only exception to this regional trend of democratic consolidation under Mečiarism, also showed signs of successful transition with the revival of democracy after the 1998 elections. However, in the last few years, with the rise of eurosceptics, ultra-nationalists and populists, the democratic model has been facing grave challenges in these countries. Besides attacking the opposition, students’ organisations and NGOs,  the conservative leadership in these countries, have also passed regressive reforms in media, constitution, as well as the judiciary. These attacks and reforms are aimed at strengthening the power of eurosceptic populist leaders, and thereby reducing any chances of Eurocentric opposition in the future. But why, despite initial years of promising success, democratic consolidation failed in the V4 countries? This essay argues that the challenges to the democratic consolidation in these post-communist countries have been a result of myriad local, national and international factors at economic, political and social levels.

Primarily, the membership in the EU, which was a major foreign policy objective of the new political elite post-1989, had raised numerous expectations among the citizens in these countries. But after the EU membership in May 2004, when those expectations still seemed a distant dream for the citizens in these countries, the disappointment with the EU membership’s promises rose throughout the region. This disappointment soon became a fertile ground on which the conservative section of the political elite mobilised their support, which became evident with the victory of nationalistic and eurosceptic parties throughout the region.

This discontentment with the Western European model was made further worse by the economic crises of 2008-9 and the subsequent Euro debt crisis of 2011. Contrary to expectations that the EU membership will be a guarantor of economic prosperity and improved standards of living, the V4 countries had to suffer immensely as a result of these crises which primarily resulted because of the loopholes in other countries. Furthermore, the subsequent burden of reforms with adoption of EU’s austerity policies aimed at stabilising the European économies post-crises, also proved costly for these countries, and hence furthered their apathy towards the integrationist model of Brussels.

Post 2015, the Refugee Crisis, resulting due to the massive influx of illegal migrants into Europe from politically unstable areas of the Middle East, North Africa and Asia, further fuelled the simmering anti-EU attitudes among the V4 countries. Though only Hungary was directly affected by the wave of these migrants, all V4 countries reflected a response which was reminiscent of classical xenophobia and exclusive nationalism. Despite these countries officially voting against Brussels’ proposal of obligatory refugee quotas, and opposing the financial aid given to Turkey following EU-Turkey deal to stop refugees from entering the EU, the conservative media and politicians in these countries left no stone unturned to show a face of refugees that immediately mobilised the people to vote populist demagogues to power at the cost of ruling out the Eurocentric federalists.

Finally, another important, and often overlooked reason for the failed democratic consolidation in the V4 countries has been their lack of historical experience with democracy. As a result of this lacked democratic experience, people in these countries failed to develop a democratic culture in a few decades post-1989, and instead found it easy to turn back to their familiar models.

However, despite all the gloomy prospects of democratic consolidation in the V4 countries, the region is not the only aberration. The rise of Euroscepticism, nationalism, and populism has been on the rise throughout the continent, which became evident with Brexit and the rise of conservative parties, like National Front and Alternative for Germany, among others. Therefore, it is imperative for the EU that these occasional setbacks in few countries must not hinder its vision of greater European integration. Because, any void created by declining role of Brussels in the Visegrad region will immediately be filled by Russia, which is craving to regain its influence in its ‘near-abroad.’

Moreover, the recent experiences from Afghanistan, Libya, Algeria and elsewhere, also made it clear that the quick imposition of the democratic model is not the universal solution for discrete problems across the world. The fact that the evolution of democracy took centuries of deliberate transformations, and occasional violent conflicts, in England, France, USA and elsewhere, must be kept in mind while assessing the democratic consolidation in any part of the world. Expecting successful transition and consolidation of democracy in the V4 countries, without keeping in mind that it has been only a few decades since these countries embarked on this painful transition, is in itself problematic.

Nonetheless, the post-1989 transition has also successfully contributed to transforming a considerable section of the population in these countries, who now show major disliking towards any non-democratic model. Therefore, even if the current situation of the V4is not a pleasant one, the big picture coming post-1989 is a reflection of a successful break with the ‘Other’ past.

Pirzada Junaid Ahmad is a ResearchScholar at the Centre for European Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He holds a Master's degree in Conflict Analysis and Peace-building from Nelson Mandela Centre for Conflict Analysis and Peace-building, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. His areas of interest include Symbolism, Nationalism, Democratic Transition and Geopolitics.

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An Austro-Franco-German Proposal for a European Post Covid-19 Recovery Programme

Tereza Neuwirthova

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WIIW Director Holzner addressing the Conference

The conference named “75 years of Europe’s Collective Security and Human Rights System”, which took place on the 1st of July at the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, brought together experts related to the reality of the Old Continent and its Union over the course of the past 75 years of its post-WWII anti-fascist existence. It was jointly organized by four different entities (the International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies IFIMES, Media Platform Modern Diplomacy, Scientific Journal European Perspectives, and Action Platform Culture for Peace) with the support of the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, numerous academia supporting and media partners.

The conference gathered over twenty high ranking speakers from Canada to Australia, and audience physically in the venue while many others attended online – from Chile to Far East. The day was filled by three panels focusing on the legacy of WWII, Nuremberg Trials, the European Human Rights Charter and their relevance in the 21st century; on the importance of culture for peace and culture of peace – culture, science, arts, sports – as a way to reinforce a collective identity in Europe; on the importance of accelerating on universalism and pan-European Multilateralism while integrating further the Euro-MED within Europe, or as the Romano Prodi’s EU Commission coined it back in 2000s – “from Morocco to Russia – everything but the institutions”.

The event itself was probably the largest physical gathering past the early spring lock down to this very day in this part of Europe. No wonder that it marked a launch of the political rethink and recalibration named – Vienna Process.

The panel under the name “Future to Europe: Is there any alternative to universal and pan-European Multilateralism? Revisiting and recalibrating the Euro-MED and cross-continental affairs”, was focused on discussing the determinants of Europe’s relations with its strategic Euro-MED and Eurasian neighborhood, the possible pan-European political architecture as well as on the forthcoming post-crisis recovery.

On the latter topic, the panelist Mario Holzner, who is the Director-General of the WIIW Austria, outlined the policy proposal on the post-pandemic European recovery programme, elaborated by his Viennese Institute in collaboration with the Paris-based research institute OFCE  and the German IMK Macroeconomic Policy Institute. The Recovery Fund recently proposed by the European Commission represents a benchmark in the era of stalled European integration, and during the unstable and precarious post-pandemic times it holds a crucial role for overcoming the immense political and economic crisis of 2020 . Following on much public debate about the recovery financing, which however has heretofore lacked the proposals for concreteprojects that the EU should allocate the funds into, it is now urgently needed to come up with these.

WIIW, OFCE and IMK, three research tanks dealing with economic topics, suggested two main pillars – an EU one, and a national one- for the spending of the Commission’s recovery programme that reaches the amount of €2tn and is to allotted over a 10-year horizon. The spending of the EU pillar is to be channeled into the area of healthcare, eventually giving rise to a pan-European health project under the name Health4EU. Not least, another efficient allocation of the funds located in the programme’sEU pillar is to projects helping to mitigate the risks resulting from climate change, as well as to develop an EU-wide rail infrastructure that would substantively contribute to achieving the Commission’s goals of carbon-neutrality at the continent.

Among other, the proposal introduces two ambitious transport projects- a European high-speed rail infrastructure called Ultra-Rapid-Train, which would cut the travel time between Europe’s capitals, as well as disparate regions of the Union. Another suggested initiative is an integrated European Silk Road which would combine transport modes according to the equally-named Chinese undertaking.

Mr. Holzner’s experts team put forward the idea to electrify” the European Commission’s Green Deal. Such electrification is feasible through the realisation of an integrated electricity grid for 100%-renewable energy transmission (e-highway), the support for complementary battery and green-hydrogen projects, as well as a programme of co-financing member states’ decarbonisation and Just Transition policies. Together, the suggested policy proposals provide the basis for creating a truly sustainable European energy infrastructure.

From the national pillar, it should be the member states themselves who benefit from the funding allocation in the overall amount of €500bn. According to the experts from WIIW, these resources should be focused on the hardest-hit countries and regions, whereas it is imperative that they are front-loaded (over the time span of three years).

The overall architecture of the programme’s spending, involving the largest part of the budget, needs to be focused on long-term projects and investment opportunities that would serve as a value added for the European integration, while also allowing to build resilience against the major challenges that the EU currently faces. The proposed sectors for the initiatives which could be launched from the EU’s funding programme are public health, transport infrastructure, as well as energy/decarbonisation scheme. Accordingly, it is needed that the funding programme is primarily focused on the structural and increasingly alarming threat of climate change.

As stated in the closing remarks, to make this memorable event a long-lasting process, the organisers as well as the participants of this unique conference initiated an action plan named “Vienna Process: Common Future – One Europe.In the framework of this enterprise, the contributing policy-makers and academics will continue to engage in meaningful activities to reflect on the trends and developments forming the European reality while simultaneously affecting the lives of millions. The European system, formed over centuries and having spanned to a political and economic Union comprising 27 states, is currently being reconfigured as a result of numerous external factors such as Brexit, the pandemic, as well as the dynamics in neighbouring regions. All of these are engendering the conditions for a novel modus operandi on the continent, whereby it is in the best intention of those partaking at this conference to contribute to a more just, secure, and peaceful European future.

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Britain, Greece, Turkey and The Aegean: Does Anything Change?

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Since at least 1955, the Aegean Sea has long been an area of contention between local powers Greece and Turkey on the one hand, and the US-UK-Israeli strategic axis on the other, with the Soviet Union and then Russia defending its interests when necessary, since the Aegean cannot be separated from the Eastern Mediterranean as a strategic whole, nor from Syria, Cyprus, Egypt, Palestine and Israel. In this essay, we shall, by using original documents, unravel the background to the present media hysteria over a potential war between Greece and Turkey.

Mental Underpinning

As Giambattista Vico, beloved by James Joyce, wrote, the world moves between periods of order and disorder. At the moment, there certainly seems to be a surfeit of disorder or, in the words of some attention-grabbing media pundits, chaos. We should also bear in mind Francesco Guicciardini’s dictum that things have always been the same, that the past sheds light on the future, and that the same things return with different colours. The current Aegean clash between Greece and Turkey is no exception. Let us look briefly at British policy to gain a more realistic insight into what is really happening, and slice through the emotional and warlike rhetoric emanating mainly from President Erdogan, emphasising as it does Ottomanism and Sunni Mohammedanism (thus undermining Kemalism), and in turn holding NATO to ransom, and distracting the Turkish people from an impending economic crisis.

British Imperial Origins

The origins of Turkish claims go back to Britain bringing Turkey into the Cyprus question in 1955, in breach of Article 16 of the Treaty of Lausanne, and then helping Turkey with its propaganda.1 This enabled Turkey to link the Cyprus issue to unfounded claims in the Aegean. Let us look more closely at British policy.

In 1972, Turkey was threatening Greece over its legitimate building of a radar station on Limnos, first for national defence purposes, and then integrated into NATO’s radar network. Britain recognised Greece’s objections to Turkish sabre-rattling: the Head of the FCO’s Southern European Department (SED) consulted Western Organisations Department (WOD), including the comment ‘what looked prima facie like a strong Greek case in law’.2 In a typical bout of taking French leave of the problem, WOD replied: ‘The last thing that we want to do is to find ourselves playing any part in it’.3 Thus, the rights and wrongs of the case were irrelevant to the FCO. Non-involvement was the order of the day.

But internally the debate continued. On 28 September, an FCO legal adviser wrote: ‘My preliminary view is that I agree with the Greek contention that when the Montreux Convention entered into force the provisions of the Lausanne Straits Convention concerning the de-militarisation of Lemnos terminated. I am of this opinion because of the plain words of the two treaties in their context and in the light of their object and purpose.’4

In the event, the issue was fudged, and war was avoided. But the claims remained, to be resuscitated whenever it suited Turkish foreign policy, as in 1975 and in the wake of the invasion and occupation of over one third of Cyprus. Turkey expanded its claims to cover several Greek islands. Again, in private, the FCO revealed the absurdity of the Turkish claims, with the Head of Chancery at British Embassy in Ankara writing: ‘Another example of perhaps typically Turkish thinking on this occurred when I was discussing this subject with Mr Dag, a First Secretary who works to Mr Süleymez […] He said that all that was needed for progress was that the Greeks should give in! I was left with the impression that reference to the International Court was still seen as something rather irrelevant and that the Turks hankered firmly, however unrealistically, for a bilateral solution. This is perhaps not surprising as they can presumably not have very much confidence in winning their case at the Court on its merits alone.’5 In this connexion, Henry Kissinger also pressurised the British Prime Minister to water down a draft UN resolution, so as to appear less supportive of the Greek position.6

The British position can be seen even more plainly in an FCO brief in 1977: ‘It happens that the British Government’s view of the issue is much closer to the Greek than the Turkish view. In particular, Britain supports the entitlement of islands to have a continental shelf.’7

The backstage reality is however better encapsulated in the following extract from an FCO paper: ‘We should also recognise that in the final analysis Turkey must be regarded as more important to Western strategic interests than Greece and that, if risks must be run, they should be risks of further straining Greek rather than Turkish relations with West.’8

At the Moment

The question arises as to whether anything will alter intrinsically in Greek-Turkish relations and in Anglo-Saxon support for Turkey. We are currently witnessing a repeat of previous illegal Turkish actions in the Aegean. France, as often in the past, tends to support Greece more openly, and now Italy has joined in a naval exercise with the French and Greeks. Germany is more difficult, as it still seems to place its enormous business interests in Turkey (its ally in the Great War), including large arms sales, above international law. Britain, the US’s acolyte in the Eastern Mediterranean, is enjoying the possibility of a Franco-German EU-weakening split, as it always has.

If it does however come to serious push and shove, Germany will have to succumb to the French view on Turkish law-breaking, since the EU depends more than ever on the Franco-German axis, and irritated commentators are starting to make comparisons between the Nazi genocide of Jews and Turkey’s genocide of Armenians and others. This is likely to have an effect on the German institutional psyche, still intent on being seen to be humanitarian, to balance the horrors perpetrated in the past. This leaves us with a potential disagreement between the Franco-German axis and thus the EU (even with a Germany being reluctant to criticise Turkey too obviously) on the one hand, and the US-UK-Israel axis on the other. Although the US is still trying, with the UK (and, until recently, Germany) to force Greece and Turkey to talk to each other on an equal footing, this is precisely what Turkey wants, so as to avoid its claims going to the International Court at the Hague. Russia, although happy to see two alleged NATO allies talking about war against each other, and undermining an organisation that it sees as obsolete and a threat to world peace, would not like to see major disorder on its southern flank, as this could affect its strategic interests in Syria and the region as a whole, interests that are considered by many to more legitimate than those of the US, thousands and thousands of miles away.

The only question is whether there will be another international fudge – which means only postponing the problem – or whether UN Law of the Sea will prevail (of course Turkey has not signed the UNLOSC Convention) and put Turkey in its place, with a concomitant return to Kemalism and friendship with neighbours, or even a weakened but less jingoistic Turkish state.

Footnotes

1 – Mallinson, William, Cyprus: a Modern History, I.B. Tauris, London and New York, 2005, 2008, and 2012 (now Bloomsbury), pp. 22-25.

2 – Hitch to McLaren, minute, 7 September 1972, BNA FCO9/1525, file WSG 3/318/1, in Mallinson, William, Britain and Cyprus, Bloomsbury Academic, 2020.

3 – Ibid., Ramsay to McLaren, minute, 13 September 1972.

4 – Ibid., Wood to Hitch, minute, 28 September 1972.

5 – Fullerton to Wright, letter, 28 September 1975, BNA FCO 9/2233, file WSG 3/318/1.

6 -Telephone conversation between Kissinger and Callaghan, BNA PREM 16/1157.

7 – FCO brief, May 1977, BNA PREM16/1624.

8 – ‘British Interests in the Eastern Mediterranean’, FCO paper prepared by South East Europe Department, 11 April 1975, BNA FCO 46/1248, file DP1/516/1.

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From Intellectual Powerhouse to Playing Second Fiddle

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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A multi-ethnic, multi-religious culture built Spain into an intellectual powerhouse so much so that after the reconquesta scholars from various parts of Europe flocked there to translate the scientific and philosophical works from classical Arabic into Latin triggering the European renaissance. 

But soon there were other changes.  The Holy Office of the Inquisition was born.  Muslim dress, Arab names and the Arabic language were outlawed.  A new inferior class of people emerged – Moriscos.  They were Muslims who had converted to Catholicism under threat, usually of exile and loss of property.  Many of course continued to practice Islam in secret. 

Discrimination and mistreatment led to Morisco rebellions which were crushed.  Eventually they were forced into internal exile to the northern provinces of Extremadura, La Mancha and New Castile where there was greater tolerance particularly in La Mancha. 

In Toledo, the area around the cathedral gained fame as an informal school of translators.  Often Morisco, these translators’ services were available to scholars or others requiring translation of Arabic texts.  It is here that the narrator of Cervantes’ epic Don Quixote of La Mancha finds a translator for an Arabic manuscript, a supposedly historical account of Don Quixote’s adventures.  The author of the fictional text is Cide Hamete Benengeli, a name that is clearly of a Morisco.  If Spain was busy making Moriscos a non-people, Cervantes was reminding them of their heritage.  

In 1492 when the last Arab Emirate (Grenada) was relinquished to Catholic Spain the treaty signed promised Muslims the right to their way of life in perpetuity.  Their Catholic Majesties Ferdinand II and Isabella I soon reneged on the deal.  Restrictions, internal exile, discrimination and forced conversions were the result.  But even the converted were not safe.  As Ottoman power expanded to the Mediterranean, Spain felt threatened.  Morisco loyalty became suspect and in the early 17th century they were expelled from Spain as were the Jews.  So ended 900 years of coexistence, fruitful and friendly that changed to suspicions and final expulsion under Catholic Spain.

And what of Spain?  Having lost its intellectual dynamism, it took its brand of intolerant Christianity to the Americas and added it to European diseases to which the people there had no immunity.  A devastated but Christianized population was the result.  Time and immigration have changed demographics.  A majority of Argentines for example have Italian ancestry; German influence in Chile which encouraged immigration from there in the 19th century is another example.  

Our own Ferdinand and Isabella composite resides in the White House with a good chance he will not next year.  Life will go on and people will continue to practice the religion of their birth or choice. 

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